CARVING STABILITY IN AN ACT OF JUGGLE
As an artist and entrepreneur, stamp-artist Rachel lets us in on her discovery of finding stability in the midst of an imbalance - as she juggles three beanbags in a cascade: of running the business, of pursuing artistic expression, and of finding joy and purpose with her brand.
July 22, 2022
She carries buoyancy in her steps, welcoming us to her stamp-art space with a warm, exuberant reception — an upbeat start to the resumption of the Humans of Hvala blog after a long hiatus. It was half past ten one windy morning as we stepped foot into Rachel’s cosy, chapel-like home, decked with multiple wooden frames of different art forms: calligraphy, digital illustration, crocheting. It is a home where the wind could somehow accentuate its cosiness and warmth, as the interior painted a sense of bliss, contentment, and balance.
Inked stamps today come either in the form of dull office-label Signed & Confirmed chops, or colourful animated plastic stamps sold in primary school bookshops. Few are the number of stamp artists in Singapore who go into the niche business, and even fewer are those who aspire to make a living out of this niche artform at a young age.
But Rachel Ma, Founder & Maker of Drool Stamps, has spent over a decade exploring with her carving knife and rubber. Constantly reinventing her works and pushing boundaries with her craft, she hopes for Drool Stamps to bring warmth and playfulness into the humdrum of life.
When we asked what success means to her as a creator and artist, she redefined conventional forms of success and deprioritized all factors that make one make it. She insists on living purposefully over the desires of attaining numbers, revenue, audience. In our exchange of loud hearty laughters over sweet breakfast pastries, her zest for life and her love for people was evinced in her genial disposition; and as vague as “purpose” could sound, Rachel streamlines it to a simple notion: to find stability in imbalance.
“Balance — it doesn’t mean that both weights are levelled. It’s a juggling act: there’s no preceding over which one. Sometimes you lower this, and you raise that. They are not on equal scales, but you are momentarily letting go of one thing to hold another, and catching it back in momentum.”
Founder & Maker of Drool Stamps, Rachel Ma
Turning passion into business single-handedly had placed Rachel through seasons of growth in many ways possible. Tears, happy tears, would well up in her eyes as she recounted the days that seemed heavier to hold. The days when juggling three bean bags — one, of pursuing her artistic expression, two, of running the business, and three, of pursuing joy and purpose, feels out of rhythm and control. As a full-time Artist and Entrepreneur, it was through twists and turns of uneven roads that Rachel steadied the act of juggling the three bean bags and discovered her own definition of balance— a needful journey that such unparalleled conviction could be so engraved in.
Shelf of finished works.
Carving new life into a block of rubber.
The beanbag of Business
Since the age of twelve, Rachel started to carve rubber erasers as an act of pure fiddling with stationery, but her curiosity led her to discover the world of stamp-art. It was one of the after-school hobbies that piqued her interest to play with and experiment as little gifts for friends and family, until affirmations and favour poured in to propel her in starting a business out of it.
Unbeknownst to her that she would one day run a business out of a hobby, Rachel candidly shared about her struggles being a full-time Artist, with bills to be paid and a house to build for family. From marketing to fundraising, resourcing to financing, strategising to budgeting, starting Drool Stamps from scratch and running as a one-woman operation for over a decade has brought her through rounds of experimentations and trying— with many risks of failure and disappointment, a constant worriment to tread carefully on.
But it was through a purposeful approach that gave Rachel new business ideas and formulas.
A lover of people and of connections, her gregarious personality makes her the life of the party and a hail-fellow-well-met wherever she goes. When we asked what drives her purpose in her work, her response was indisputable: it had to be the people. The people on her journey, and new people she gets to meet. The thing about purpose is that it could easily feel ephemeral and more often than not, susceptible to doubt and changes. Rachel’s purpose seems immovable though— connections remind her that she is doing something bigger than herself.
In that pursuit, her business models and strategies were eventually wired in that direction. She explored new doors of possibilities to extend her expertise: commissioned work, workshops, live events, and her main operational platform Patreon.It was by years of trial-and-error that had crystallised what works and what doesn’t, shedding light on the most viable routes of self-sustainability for Rachel.
Past works displayed on Rachel's studio-desk.
The beanbag of Artistic Expression
As the beanbag of business is up in the air in the juggling cascade, another beanbag Rachel seeks to juggle in a momentum is her pursuit of artistic expression.
As a graduate from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) majoring in Illustration Design, Rachel holds onto a multi-dimensional approach to Art, finding enjoyment in other mediums of art beyond just stamp-making.
She has a large concept of beauty in her mind, almost perceptible by a glance of her home-studio: different mediums of art pieces are hung on the walls of her living room and studio, the coordinated colour scheme of homeware and furniture, and the clean working space she maintains despite the many tools and materials that lay around. Even in her works— the ones that pull people in in resonance, they revolve around day-to-day objects; the ones that bring comfort, the ones that feel like home, and the ones that provoke nostalgia. She breathes in inspiration from the little things, and habitually reflects on the simplest ways of beauty.
When big orders or custom commissioned-work comes in, whilst still executing them with a whole heart, it leaves little room for Rachel to explore new creative possibilities; almost restraining any new reservoir of outputs from the unfettered creative spirit.
“The thing about being able to sustain a business is that it can sustain the passion. If it is a constant loop, it may also be a recipe for burnout.”
She learns, that on this journey of juggling business and art, the motivation for both may not always be on equal ground. As much as her passion for stamp-making could give a surge of adrenaline, Rachel tells us with a glint in her eye, that passion should not come at the expense of joy and it should feel rejuvenating, rather than draining.
Rachel & a surprise guest, Mila.
The beanbag of Joy & Purpose
Juggling the last bean bag — perhaps the bean bag Rachel holds on to dearly and protects from slipping out of her hand, is the pursuit of joy and purpose in all of her craft, and in all of her approach to life.
Recounting a season of burnouts where the lack of support and affirmations from her loved ones drained every purpose she was running on dry, Rachel is careful to juggle both business and art such that in this cascade, joy and purpose is still the aspect that holds both together; the beanbag that ensures the continual momentum.
In that dry season, she remembers the nagging feeling of needing to prove one’s worth, to ensure the business could produce a constant flow of output, to aim for 100% customer satisfaction— it was this that Rachel found to be the recipe for burn-out and adverse production. In that, she’s found a pivotal epiphany: that her best artistic expression is born out of a state of joy.
Perhaps joy is not always happiness or the result of happy circumstances.
Joy… should be the state of peace and security when the world outside the window seems to be accelerating ahead of you.
Holding strong to the insistence to work from the heart, Drool Stamps has since become a symbol of Trying Again for her, believing that part of living purposefully is to live for enjoyment and allowance to take more chances. When joy and purpose outlines both craft and business, even if stamp-art were to one day be taken away from her, it will not strip her of her identity. “I will still be me.”
“As much as my craft is a big part of who I am, it is not me. It is not my identity. If at any point seasons were to change, if there is a time where Drool Stamps were to take another form or shape, I won’t feel like a part of me is gone.”